R&B Legend Teena Marie was found dead by her daughter in her home on December 26, 2010. She was 54 years of age at her death. As we go to print, the cause of death is still unknown, but a speculative report is circulating that a grand mal seizure might have played a part in Teena Marie’s death. According to Lynn Jeter, the singer’s publicist, the singer reportedly suffered a major seizure a month ago and had stopped taking the prescribed medication due to ill effects it left on her.
Teena Marie came into the world as Mary Christine Brockert on March 5, 1956 in Santa Monica, Calif. Since she burst into the national public eye under the tutelage of Rick James on Motown Records in 1979, it was a hidden fact that she was signed to the label for three years prior. After working with a slew of writers and producers and not finding the right chemistry, the future looked grim for Marie.
According to Rick James, in his autobiography, “The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Super Freak,” “Never in my life have I heard such range and passion in a white voice. I immediately started writing for her. I was also told that was her last shot. She had spent close to four hundred thousand dollars recording and still no album. Motown really didn’t know what to do with her, Berry (Motown Founder/President Berry Gordy) had signed her as an actress and singing was going to be secondary for her. They had all these producers writing songs for her that just didn’t work, some of the songs sounded good to me but Motown just didn’t hear it.” James agreed to take on the project, which resulted in the album “Wild and Peaceful.”
Released to the public with no photo on the album cover, an old trick to sell the public on the music and not race, the album was buoyed by the single, a duet with Marie and James, “I’m Just A Sucker for Your Love,” which was a top-ten smash. (The song was originally slated for Diana Ross.)
The first national performance of the song was on Soul Train–and the secret was out, and it mattered not. Teena Marie was on her way to becoming an R&B fixture. Her 30-year career consisted of 13 studio albums, two which have gone gold, “Irons In The Fire” and “La Dona,” and two that have reached the platinum mark of 1 million sales, “It Must be Magic” and “Starchild,” with her recording homes being Motown Records, Epic Records, Sarai Records, Cash Money Records and Stax.
Aside from her accomplishments as a recording artist, Marie contributed to a case that had reverberations throughout the music industry. After voicing frustrations with her situation at Motown, Teena Marie signed to Epic Records. Motown issued a lawsuit, Marie countered, and the heated legal debate led to “The Brockert Initiative,” which enforced a California law that made it impossible for record labels to keep a performer under contract without paying them royalties. According to her, the label failed to pay her a required minimum of $6,000 per year. That legality helps shape and influence artists of all genres.
Marie tried her hand as an executive with an independent label called Sarai Records, which yielded one of her best-loved albums, “Passion Play.” The financial burden of running a label proved to be difficult. That album contained the song “Main Squeeze,” which featured Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz has made a despondent message regarding her passing, saying, “I’ve never really talked much about it in depth, but I would not be here if it wasn’t for Teena Marie. She changed my life. Not only as an artist but as a person. She truly loved me for who I was. I was just a musician on the street; I was living from pillar to post. She took me in, she gave me a bedroom, she gave me instruments to play, she cooked for me, she took me to concerts, she nurtured me and helped me become who I am. I will always love you and respect you. Thank you for being my friend. Thank You father, for the life of Teena Marie.”
Radio host Lenny Green said that Teena Marie was “one of the most gifted soul singers of our time, and her talents went beyond singing, to how special she was as a person because her spirit was always warm and giving, which allowed her music to touch our souls in a special way. I will miss her dearly, as millions of her fans will. But the treasure we have is the legacy of music that she left.”
Marie is survived by her daughter Alia Rose Noelle, who was born on December 25. Details of the memorial services have yet to be announced.